When people think of Indiana, they typically don’t think about Hoosiers having style. With names like the Crossroads of America and the Heartland, some people mistakenly see us as a “flyover” state. And they assume that Indy must be lagging behind the trends.
But here in Indianapolis, fashion is woven into our culture. With countless creative designers, retail boutiques, and talented students, the Indy region has a robust fashion community. And every year, our local fashion design industry continues to grow as we build an ecosystem around apparel manufacturing.
You’d think that there’d be enough clothing and accessories on the planet already. But the data shows that the demand for apparel is constantly increasing and evolving. Across the world, the global apparel industry is projected to grow from $1.5 trillion in 2020 to $2.25 trillion by 2025.
That growth is driven by new trends and innovations that have shaped the fashion industry during the last decade. From increased online sales to sustainability concerns, the industry has been rethinking the product life cycle and brick-and-mortar stores. And entrepreneurs have had to stay on the cutting edge to keep up with the times.
Over the years, I’ve seen how our local industry has similarly changed, bringing more opportunities to Indiana. And as the founder of the Indiana Fashion Foundation (IFF) and the Indiana Fashion Week, I’m proud to say that I’ve been part of that growth!
Now, after years of investment in our community, there are many organizations working to support our talented creators. So, let’s take the time to spotlight the beauty of Indy’s fashion industry!
Indiana has a history of fashion design and unique styles.
Before we talk about today’s fashion community, we should point out Indiana’s history in the industry! Some of the greatest known fashion designers once lived in Indiana and helped shape our state’s style.
One of the first American superstar designers, Halston grew up in Evansville and adopted a “less is more” fashion philosophy. Meanwhile, Norman Norrell was born in Noblesville and always focused on the details in his designs. Bill Blass was a Fort Wayne native who designed elegant classic sportswear and evening gowns. And Stephen Sprouse was another Hoosier who grew up to be an influential designer. His styles combined uptown sophistication with downtown pop, mixing bright and bold colors that stood out.
In fact, Sprouse’s fashion collection and archives were even donated to the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. During his teenage years, Sprouse took inspiration from his visits to the museum. So, his mother chose to donate his legacy of clothing, designs, and various photographs and documents to the museum.
Our history has paved the way for Indy’s growing success.
Overall, as a state, Indiana has a humble history and an understated reputation. But the truth is that we’re now a hot destination full of art, entertainment, and business opportunity. Our economy thrives on automobile manufacturing, agriculture, sports, health, and the life sciences. And our fashion industry will be next on the list!
Obviously, we still have a ways to go to accomplish this goal. However, Indiana already has the foundation necessary to build a strong industry here. Our global connectivity makes Indy a great place to live, visit, and work. And our burgeoning mix of diverse creators and innovators is shaping a cultural style that’s uniquely Indy.
Indy is also home to many organizations like the Indiana Fashion Foundation that support our fashion professionals. PATTERN and Passion 4 Fashion are two other organizations that help connect talent with businesses across the world. Together, we’ve created a community that fosters the next generation of talent and helps drive their sales.
The Indiana Fashion Foundation helps support our fashion industry.
A few years ago, I decided to start the Indiana Fashion Foundation (IFF) to help bridge the gap between fashion-focused initiatives and economic power. I’d spent decades in Indiana, designing clothes and producing shows. And I saw the need for an organization that could connect people with the tools to succeed.
Essentially, the IFF is a non-profit that helps local fashion professionals find resources and access networking opportunities. We connect them with the global fashion industry and support their skill development and business ventures. We also provide diverse programming that teaches about the industry, promotes entrepreneurship, and builds a sense of community around fashion.Before the IFF, that infrastructure didn’t really exist in Indiana the same way it did in Los Angeles or New York. But now, we’re here to help integrate fashion into Indy’s culture and legacy. After all, a major part of our mission is investing in the future of fashion. So, we create opportunities for kids to engage with the industry and learn about fashion early on.
For example, our Imagine IFF initiative focuses on programs for school-aged students interested in the fashion industry. We recently launched the first program in this new youth initiative: a three-day Youth Fashion Camp. During the camp, students from ages 10 to 17 got to conceptualize and develop their own fashion businesses. And then, they shared their creations on our Making It IN Fashion conversation series!
Our annual Indiana Fashion Week brings the fashion community together.
Each year, the IFF hosts the Indiana Fashion Week, an annual convention for fashion professionals from across the state. During the week, we organize a runway show, an emerging designer competition, and an industry conference with professional speakers.
We also offer educational, entertainment, and exhibition opportunities for young designers and experienced professionals alike. We feature discussions and interviews with leaders in the industry. And afterwards, the IFF honors someone with the Legendary Trailblazers of Fashion Award.
The IFF also recently joined the CFDA Connects program, a network of regional fashion weeks and organizations. The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) created this program to help regional organizations share resources with one another. And it’s an excellent opportunity to connect Indiana-based talent with the CFDA and strengthen our connections to the broader industry.
We were one of ten founding organizations that partnered with the CFDA on this new initiative. And we look forward to working with industry leaders from across the country as we further diversify the fashion industry!
Indy explores a redefined fashion ecosystem.
Fashion is often viewed in a very linear way, limited to just designers, stylists, and models. However, those are just the roles in the spotlight! The fashion industry actually involves a much larger community of creatives and entrepreneurs.
You need seamstresses and manufacturers to make the apparel. There are managers, accountants, and lawyers that support our businesses operations. And retailers, stylists, and marketing specialists help sell that apparel to the world. Fashion also extends beyond the basic need for clothing. It opens the door of self-expression—reflecting social change, trends, and our cultural influences. And it tells a story, defining a brief moment in history as it changes and evolves.
In Indy, our business ecosystem gives us the opportunity to reimagine the traditional fashion industry model. We have a unique culture of collaboration that positions us for success and brings together the resources in our community. So, we can tap into businesses outside the fashion industry and collaborate together!
For example, StitchWorks is a small-batch cut and sew facility in Indianapolis that offers production services and sewing classes. StitchWorks helps support local designers and entrepreneurs. But they also provide production services to small businesses and other non-apparel companies that want to make goods in the USA. This important work helps address offshoring and the national shortage of industrial sewing skills!
“This initiative is all about matching markets. We know that there is plenty of demand and that we are going to be training people to fill that demand.” said Polina Osherov, Director of StitchWorks and PATTERN Founder.
Our local community collaborated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like the rest of the world, Indy has been forced to adapt over the past year. But the pandemic has given us the opportunity to explore the power of cross-industry collaboration.
When the demand for PPE skyrocketed, the Dallara IndyCar Factory partnered with StitchWorks to create thousands of isolation gowns. Dallara cut the necessary pieces with their manufacturing equipment, and StitchWorks activated over 100 people to sew them together.
GDC Inc. also shifted gears to help meet that need. GDC typically supplies over 20 million parts each year to companies like Ford, Toyota, GM, and Trane. But they adapted and began manufacturing disposable, full face protective shields.
By fostering these collaborations, Indy continues to grow and create a more sustainable fashion ecosystem. All across the region, we’ve seen people reimagine their partnership strategies to create innovative solutions.
Indy’s sports organizations worked with local creators to develop unique campaigns. Our manufacturing industry partnered with workforce development to create a robust employment channel. And our tech and fashion industries are even working together to develop augmented reality wearables!
The Indianapolis region is a centralized hub for innovative fashion.
Of course, the heart of our local fashion industry is our community of creative designers. All across the region, you’ll see residents wearing the styles of Indianapolis-based designer brands.
On college campuses, you can find students in streetwear brands like Komafi and Wishful Thinkin. When we start attending events again, you’ll see avant-garde Nikki Blaine Couture ensembles and exquisite Afro-contemporary designs by YemiSan. If you host a meeting in downtown Indianapolis, there’ll be someone wearing an Andrew Porter Fine Clothiers custom suit. And on the next award show red carpet, you might spot a custom embroidered suit from Union Western. (Both Post Malone and Lil Nas X have worn their cowboy threads!)
All in all, Indiana’s diverse style is shaped by our flowing ingenuity, creativity-led innovation, and our culture of hospitality and authenticity. As our industry continues to grow, we hope to invest in Indy’s unique style and foster that creative expression in our community. And I can’t wait to see how the next generation of fashion creators elevates our style to new heights!
(Original article posted on Life in Indy)